17 February 2000
Meacher backs common land
By Jeremy Hunt
THE government is committed to maintaining the viability of farms that depend on common grazing, particularly in the uplands, says environment minister Michael Meacher.
He told 250 farmers at an NFU-organised conference in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, that the government wanted to make sure common land was protected and preserved, and that its traditional farming methods would continue.
Mr Meacher was launching a consultation document, Greater Protection and Better Management of Common Land in England and Wales.
He urged farmers, landowners and commoners to respond to the consultation, adding that their views would be taken into account alongside those of walkers and conservationists.
Subject to management needs, commons should be open for everyone to enjoy, Mr Meacher said.
The government was particularly keen to hear views on the registration of commons.
We want to ensure that the registration system for common land is fair and effective.
“It must operate alongside a land management system that meets the different needs of commoners as well as protecting the environment of these 0.5m hectares, he said.
Improved protection for unclaimed commons and those no longer subject to the rights of common was also needed.
Government proposed to allow incorrectly registered common land to be removed from registers to rectify the unfairness suffered by some landowners due to historically inaccurate mapping.
Farm management problems on commons, such as over-grazing, also had to be addressed, Mr Meacher said.
The question is whether government should introduce regulatory powers to deal with these matters.
“Creating an open discussion on these topics is the role of the consultation document.
NFU president, Ben Gill, told Farmers Weekly that he believed urgent legislation was needed to correct the unacceptable anomalies affecting common land.
We need to move from a situation where you have people with commoners rights who have nothing at all to do with the common and whose actions can cause all sorts of problems to genuine graziers, he said.
A solution was long overdue.